China on Wednesday defended its April 14 order to issue "standardised" Chinese names for six towns in Arunachal Pradesh - seen as a move to reaffirm its territorial claims - and claimed it was not with its official protest on April 5 against the Dalai Lama's visit to the state.
The Ministry of Civil Affairs in Beijing issued "standardised [names] in Chinese characters, Tibetan and Roman alphabet the names of six places in South Tibet, which India calls Arunachal Pradesh, in accordance with the regulations of the State Council", reported the Party-run Global Times, which quoted experts as saying it was aimed at "reaffirming sovereignty".
Asked if the move, barely nine days after China summoned India's envoy in Beijing Vijay Gokhale to protest the Dalai Lama's visit, was a retaliatory measure, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told reporters: "About why we choose this time to announce standardisation of names, China is now doing the second census of names of localities and an important part of it is to standardise names in ethnic languages. In the next step we will also step up our study of those names in Tibeten ethnic languages and in the next step we will announce more standardisation of these names."
At the same time, Lu said the naming had "supported" China's territorial claims. "These names reflect from another side that China's territorial claim over South Tibet is supported by clear evidence in terms of history, culture and administration," he said.
Lu defended the renaming as "legitimate", saying that the names "have been passed on from generation to generation by people who have lived there for generations, the Tibetan ethnic and Monpa ethnic groups". "To issue these names it is actually carried out in accordance with our regulations about the names of localities and it is a legitimate action by the Chinese government," he said.
Lu also reiterated China's opposition to the Dalai Lama's visit. "Let me stress that about the Indian government's indulgence of Dalai Lama activities in disputed eastern section of the India China boundary and also about his anti-China activities, this is something we are firmly against.These activities are also against the Indian government's commitments to China." "China's position on the eastern section of our boundary is consistent and clear," he added.
Chinese experts said the move was aimed to "reaffirm Chinese sovereignty" and "could serve as a reference or leverage when China and India negotiate border issues in future".
"The official names of the six places using the Roman alphabet are Wo'gyainling, Mila Ri, Qoidengarbo Ri, Mainquka, Bumo La and Namkapub Ri," the order said.
Xiong Kunxin, a professor of ethnic studies at the Minzu University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times: "The standardization came amid China's growing understanding and recognition of the geography in South Tibet. Naming the places is a step to reaffirm China's territorial sovereignty to South Tibet."
"These names have existed since ancient times, but had never been standardised before. Therefore, announcing the names is like a remediation," added Guo Kefan, a research fellow at the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences.